As Britney Spears nears her 30th birthday in a few months, she is in the midst of a world tour, has a successful new album, and tells Glamour Magazine that she is happy and “in a really good place right now.” There’s even talk of her regaining at least partial custody of her children. Quite a turnaround from the public lows she hit just three years ago! And who does she thank for it? Her father, James Spears.
In fact, according to a friend of hers, Britney Spears credits her father for saving her life. How did he do it when she was so close to the edge — bald head and all — just a few short years ago?
James Spears has been Britney’s conservator since 2008. This means he was appointed by a judge to make all of Britney’s legal decisions, financial and otherwise, since that time.
Most people who are familiar with conservators (or guardians, as they are called in many states) think of them as being used for elderly people who are no longer competent. Indeed, the large majority of adult guardianships and conservatorships in our country are for senior citizens with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, or those with lifelong developmental conditions or a serious brain injury. Britney falls into none of those categories, and she seems to be functioning well in life now, so why does she still have a conservator, overseen by a court of law?
That’s exactly the question that a company called Brand Sense wants to know. It sued Britney Spears and her father earlier this year because it claimed that it was shut out of $10 million in profits. Brand Sense says that it brokered the deal between Britney and Elizabeth Arden for her successful perfume line. In the lawsuit, the company has tried to take a deposition of Britney, during which its lawyers would question her under oath. But Britney’s father and their lawyers prevented the deposition from happening, because of the conservatorship.
In other words, team Spears convinced the judge that Britney was not mentally competent to sit through the questioning. Brand Sense thinks that this is nonsense because Britney is able to perform in concert, do media interviews and parent her children. Surely, she can answer a few questions, the company’s lawyers argued.
The judge disagreed. So then Brand Sense tried to obtain Britney’s medical records to see if she really was mentally competent, or if she was hiding behind the conservatorship to avoid the deposition. Again, the judge ruled against them and Britney’s medical records are staying private.
Not a bad deal for Britney, right? She gets to sing in concert, sell lots of albums and perfume, spend time with her kids, and not have to worry about things like lawsuits and depositions.
The problem is that she has no say over anything important in her life. She can’t decide where to live, whether to have surgery, how to spend her money, or even, get married. That’s right, even though she’s been dating her boyfriend for years, and he wants to marry her, she cannot get married or make any other decisions of consequence without her father’s permission.
According to Radaronline, Jason Trawick, her current boyfriend and former agent, doesn’t want to officially ask until the time is right, meaning after the conservatorship ends. Her father is said to be considering stepping aside as conservator, but not until early 2012, when her w0rld concert tour is over and she’s back in safe and familiar surroundings.
Does this all make sense? Should someone who is not suffering from dementia, a development disability, or a brain injury, really need the protection of a conservatorship and have all of her life decisions taken away from her?
If you ask Britney, it did save her life. So the answer seems to be yes, in her case.
But, it’s a dangerous path. There are countless examples of abuse in the guardianship and conservatorship system. While there are many instances where lives are saved, there are also those times that people are taken advantage of. And it even happens to those who can be helped by far less restrictive means than a court-ordered conservator or guardian taking over their lives.
The law does not make it easy for someone to obtain guardianship or conservatorship, unless the person they are trying to help really needs it, because doing so takes away so many legal rights of the protected person. Just because someone makes bad, or even unsafe decisions, does not mean that they qualify for having a court-ordered guardian or conservator. If they did, then every drug-addict and alcoholic in the country would need one.
Rather, these types of court proceedings are typically used for those who have a mental defect, caused by age, injury, or disability, not those who make bad choices.
Very few people would want to have court oversight and be unable to make decisions without getting someone else’s permission. That’s a big reason why proper legal planning is so important.
In fact, for most people, the very same protections can usually be achieved without any court proceeding, through the use of good power of attorney documents for medical and financial decisions. They are a basic, yet essential, part of any comprehensive estate plan. But many people don’t stop and think about needing legal documents to protect themselves in case they become disabled or incompetent.
That’s what power of attorney documents do — they enable you to choose someone, without a court proceeding, to act like a guardian or conservator and make your decisions if you are in a car accident, suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, or otherwise become physically or mentally unable to protect yourself. If you, your loved ones or your clients don’t already have up-to-date power of attorney documents in place, then it’s critical to do so right away.
Certainly there are times — as with Britney Spears — that powers of attorney aren’t enough to help. But those instances are the exceptions, not the rule. Every adult 18 years and older should have proper power of attorney documents, just in case.
By Danielle and Andy Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, husband-and-wife legacy expert attorneys, and hosts of the national television special, Trial & Heirs: Protect Your Family Fortune! For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click here to subscribe to The Trial & Heirs Update. You can “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.